It started last night when we got an email from the elementary school encouraging us to have the kids dress in red, white and blue today in remembrance of 9/11. As the twins were laying out their clothes for the next day, the questions started.
This was not the first time we’ve discussed what happened 12 years ago, and they know the basic facts of what happened. But last night they first wanted to know where I was that day and if I was scared. Where to begin?
I told them about how it was a beautiful Tuesday morning in Chicago and that I remember it was a perfect sunny day. I remember thinking that the train ride into the city was strangely quiet — and this was before I knew anything had happened.
I told them that once I arrived at work, their dad (who happened to be at home that day) called me and told me that a plane had crashed into one of the World Trade Centers in New York, and then a second plane followed suit. All of my co-workers went to the conference room to watch the horrifying news on TV. And then our boss told us to go home.
I told them about walking the blocks and blocks to the train station on empty Chicago streets, a fact that still strikes me as one of the weirdest sensations of that day. I crossed streets that should have been teeming with traffic and horns and people but were completely abandoned, except for an occasional pedestrian running just like I was.
I told them about the crowded train station, full of quiet people and loud engines. The conductors didn’t even look at tickets or passes; they loaded a train to capacity and sent it off. Load and go, load and go. Anything to get people out of the city. Everyone just wanted to go home and stay there.
I told them about how we watched TV almost nonstop, trying to understand what was going on. There were no commercials, no typical shows. Just the news, all the time.
I told them about how there were suddenly no planes in the sky for a long time and about how it was strange not to see one. When they finally started flying again, it was a startling, uneasy, nerve-wracking sight.
I told them about how in the days after 9/11, the American flag appeared everywhere — on homes, on cars, on bikes and on T-shirts. Everyone felt a little closer to their neighbors, everyone was a bit kinder to each other. Everyone I knew wanted to help those who were affected. And everyone felt proud of this country.
Those were the easy questions; I could recount the events of where I was and what I remembered. But then one of my kids asked me why anyone would hijack a plane to crash it and kill people. All I could say was “I don’t know.”
Even now, 12 years after that tragic day, I still don’t know how to answer that question. How does one explain the inexplicable?